World’s Largest Marine Protected Area Established in Antarctica
UN Photo/Mark Garten
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Following five years of negotiations, delegates from 24 nations and the European Union (EU) voted unanimously to declare Antarctica's Ross Sea a Marine Protected Area (MPA) at the annual meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR).

The Ross Sea MPA is 1.57 million square kilometers, an area larger than France, Germany, Italy and the UK together, making it the world's largest protected area on land or sea.

28 October 2016: Delegates from 24 nations and the European Union (EU) voted unanimously to declare Antarctica’s Ross Sea a Marine Protected Area (MPA) at the 35th annual meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). The Ross Sea MPA is the first large-scale MPA in the high seas and will be protected from industrial fishing.

Countries agreed on the Ross Sea designation following five years of negotiations. The US and New Zealand first put forward a proposal in 2011. The Russian Federation blocked the proposal to designate the Ross Sea as an MPA five times. The UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP, or UN Environment) Patron of the Oceans, Lewis Pugh, visited the Russian Federation several times to convince government officials to endorse the MPA. Pugh also has campaigned for the Ross Sea’s protection for over two years through a series of swims in the Sea. On the occasion of the declaration, Pugh said, “Today’s announcement marks an important moment in the history of conservation. The High Seas represent 45% of the Earth’s surface. But they are largely unprotected and are facing rampant overfishing. This is a crucial first step in what I hope will be a series of MPAs around Antarctica, and in other parts of the High Seas around the world.”

CCAMLR Executive Secretary, Andrew Wright, welcomed the decision, noting it “has been an incredibly complex negotiation, which has required a number of Member countries bringing their hopes and concerns to the table at six annual CCAMLR meetings as well as at intersessional workshops.”

The Ross Sea MPA is 1.57 million square kilometers, an area larger than France, Germany, Italy and the UK together, making it the world’s largest protected area on land or sea.

The Ross Sea MPA is 1.57 million square kilometers, an area larger than France, Germany, Italy and the UK together, making it the world’s largest protected area on land or sea. According to UN Environment, the Ross Sea is home to 50% of ecotype-C killer whales (also called the Ross Sea orca), 40% of Adélie penguins and 25% of emperor penguins. CCAMLR notes that the Ross Sea MPA will limit or prohibit activities to meet specific conservation, fisheries management, ecosystem monitoring and habitat protection objectives. Seventy-two percent of the MPA will be classified as a no-take zone, where all fishing is prohibited, while harvesting of fish and krill will be allowed in other sections for scientific research. The MPA will come into force in December 2017.

“The Ross Sea has much more value as an intact marine ecosystem than as a fishing ground,” said US scientist David Ainley, who was the first to call for the MPA 14 years ago. He explained, “The data collected from this living laboratory helps us understand the significant changes taking place on Earth right now.”

CCAMLR is a multilateral, consensus-based organization consisting of 25 Members (24 countries and the EU).

Previous to this designation, the largest marine protected area was the expanded Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, which was declared by US President Barack Obama, in August 2016, to protect and preserve the marine area of the Northwestern Hawaiian islands. [UNEP Press Release] [UN Press Release] [CCAMLR Press Release][SDG Knowledge Hub story about US designation of the world’s then-largest MPA ]


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